Year 2020

Unnatural Nature

Having grown up in Sapporo, a city surrounded by mountains on three sides, mountains and forests have always been a familiar presence in my life. To me, that is what the word ‘nature’ referred to.

In truth, however, almost all forests in Japan are man-made forests. About 40% were artificially planted, and the 50% that have grown naturally are almost all cultivated by humans for conservation purposes. Both the planted forests and the natural forests are so-called secondary forests. They grow on the remains of forests that were once lost due to logging or natural disasters.

Until about 150 years ago, logging was so excessive that it completely exhausted the forests, leading to phenomena like denuded mountains. Thanks to new legislation as well as changes to the economy and lifestyle, the forests have since been able to recover.

Statistical records show that the number of planted forests has been increasing every single year up to the present day. As I learned more about the history and the issues concerning the mountains near my home, I realized that the scenery I had assumed eternal was, in fact, not. I felt my concept of nature quietly falling apart.

There are many different definitions, but when I thought of nature I mostly pictured untouched forests and mountains. And whenever I thought of nature in this sense, the word “naturalness” always came to mind as well.

When I enter a forest I feel it with all my senses, and I remember the scenery vividly in all aspects that I experienced—the feeling of the wind and light, the scent of the grasses and flowers, the afterimages of swaying trees against the sky. I regarded the things I do and see in the forests as entirely normal (or natural), but it proved difficult to capture them in still images.

I began to layer images of a single location on top of each other, and a new, different kind of scenery emerged. They may differ from how it appeared to my eyes at the time, but these images are much closer to my memory than any single still image. Indeed, they show what I experienced in the forests.

If you look closely, you fill find that the vegetation of a particular place, the clouds of a particular moment, the silhouettes of tree branches, the leaves and the blue of the sky have all soaked into a single image. These sceneries, indefinite yet definitely real, lead me to ask myself: what is nature?